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Beginnings

 

This is the story of Trinity Lutheran Church. Originally founded in 1856 as “Der Deutsche Evangelische Lutherische Gemeinde zu Stapleton,” it began as an expression of the faith of German immigrants.

Germans had been coming to America since the earliest colonial times. The first major migration was composed of refugees from the Palatinate and Salzburg, as well as those who were recruited by William Penn to settle Pennsylvania in the 1730’s and 1740’s. These people settled mainly in the mid-Atlantic states, but some ended up as far south as Georgia and as far north as Nova Scotia.1 Staten Island, for some reason, seems to have been largely ignored as a new home for German immigrants until the 19th Century. One reason might be that the earlier settlers were in search of cheap farmland – that would have been a rare commodity in Staten Island, even in the 18th century.

About a century later, though, the United States saw a huge influx of immigrants. From 1840 through 1859, a total of over 4.2 million people came to America; of those, 1.3 million were German. Factors that contributed to this Teutonic tsunami included repeated crop failures in southwestern Germany that began in 1846, as well as the failed Revolution of 1848. 2 Other groups (including those who were to found the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church) left due to the theological upheavals caused by the efforts of Prussian King Wilhelm III to unite the Lutheran and Reformed Churches of Germany. 3

In New York City alone, the German population increased from 20,000 to 151,000 between 1840 and 1870 – and it doubled between 1850 and 1860 alone! By 1880, New York City had the third-largest German population in the word – second only to Berlin and Vienna.4 Many of these immigrants followed the trek westward looking for farms; however, a large contingent of them were skilled workers: bakers and butchers, cabinet makers and blacksmiths, tailors and flour millers, stone masons and tinners, cigar makers, shoe makers, typesetters and printers, mechanics, plumbers, and plasterers.5 Cheap farm land was not to be had in Staten Island – but economic opportunity was. It is among this group of Germans that we discern the roots of Trinity Lutheran Church.

 

St. John’s Port Richmond 

The first Lutheran church on Staten Island was the “German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of St. John,” now known as St. John’s Lutheran Church. It was organized on October 17, 1852. The founding members were John Rathgen, Paul Schmidt, Charles Keutgen, John Hettsche, Carl Senne, A. Knopp, Ernst Senne, Louis Koenig, John C. Schiegel, Augustus Senne, J.H. Matthius, Diedrich Senne, Gottlieb Bertsch, Carl Neidhardt, Adam Fuegel and A. Huslebus.6 Within a few years, a need was felt to establish another German Lutheran congregation in Stapleton.

Deutsche Evangelische Lutherische Gemeinde zu Stapleton

The first service was held on October 26, 1856, probably presided over by the Pastor of the Port Richmond congregation, the Rev. J.C.F. Hennicke. A congregational meeting followed on December 22, 1856 in the Methodist Episcopal Church on Cebra Avenue, which is still standing today. At this meeting, the name of the church was declared to be “Der Deutsche Evangelische Lutherische Gemeinde zu Stapleton,” and these officers were elected: Andrew Wohlrabe, President; Henry Uhrbrock, Treasurer, and Ernest F. Kortum, Secretary.7

The earliest financial record in the archives of Trinity Lutheran Church is a receipt, made out to Charles Keutgen from a trustee of the Methodist Episcopal Church, for $12.50 for rental “from 26 Oct. 1856 to 26 Jan. 1857.” The second oldest record is a receipt submitted by Charles Keutgen for $9.37 “für Gesangbuchern [hymnals]”. Music was a priority for this congregation from the very beginning.

On February 17th, 1857, Kortum and Lenting filed a certificate of incorporation with Richmond County:

 

Certificate of Incorporation


To all to whom these presents may come, we the subscribers having been elected to preside at a meeting and act as tellers by the members of the Congregational Society and Church of the denomination The German Evangelical Lutheran Church at Stapleton, in the town of Castleton, County of Richmond and State of New York, being ourselves members of said Church, at an election held in the Methodist Episcopal Church in Cebra Avenue, in the said town of Castleton, where the said Society statedly attends divine worship, on the twenty-second day of December eighteen hundred and fifty-six at five o’clock in the afternoon, the said election having been duly notified according to law fifteen days previous thereto and for two successive Sundays preceding the election by public notice given to the Society by their officiating minister at the said Church and at the stated meeting of the said Society for divine worship do hereby certify that the following persons were duly chose trustees of the said Society to be forever hereafter called and known by the name of The German Evangelical Lutheran Church at Stapleton, to wit 

Andrew Wohlrabe

Ernest F. Kortum

Henry Uhrbrack

And we do further certify that we the subscribers were at the period and place aforesaid duly chosen by a majority of the members of the said Society present at the said meeting to preside at the said election and receive the votes of the electors for the said Trustees.

Given under our hands and seals this seventeenth day of February in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and fifty-seven.

E.F. Kortum L.S.

F. Lenting L.S. 

State of New York |

| ss.:

Richmond County |

 

On the seventeenth day of February in the year eighteen hundred fifty-seven, before me came Ernest F. Kortum and Frederick Lenting severally known to me to be the individuals described in and who executed the above certificate and severally acknowledged to me that they executed the same.

 

Henry B. Metcalfe

County Judge of Richmond County

 

Recorded February 20th

9 ½ o’clock A.M. 1857

Joseph Egbert, Clerk

 

During these first years, the Stapleton congregation appeared to follow closely the lead of Port Richmond. They not only shared a Pastor – J.C. F. Hennicke – but Carl Keutgen acted as Secretary for both congregations at times.

 

Rev. J.C.F. Hennicke, first pastor of the German church in Stapleton

On August 30, 1857, the congregation resolved to adopt the Constitution of the New York Ministerium, “some copies of which had been distributed amongst them by their Pastor the Rev. C. Hennicke, with the same additions adopted by their brethren of the German Evang. Lutheran Church at Port Richmond. . . “8 Both congregations sent lay delegates to the synod meeting held from Sept. 5 through Sept. 9 at Utica, NY. August Senne represented Port Richmond, and Henry Uhrbrock, Stapleton. Pastor Hennicke also attended, and it was at this session that, at the request of both Staten Island congregations, he was ordained to the ministry (technically, he was only a “licentiate” to ministry prior to this). 9 In addition, the Stapleton congregation applied for, and received, membership in the Ministerium. (Port Richmond, oddly, put off this request until 1858, when they too were received into the Ministerium).

So things appeared to be moving along quickly for the young congregation. However, earlier in the year, there were signs of trouble. On Feb. 10, 1857, Carl Keutgen drafted a letter to the congregation informing them that Pastor Hennicke had received a call from the German Evangelical Lutheran congregation in Albany, NY.

 

Letter from Carl Keutgen to the Congregation

It is most probable that this was the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. John. This congregation was formed by a faction of the 2nd German Lutheran Church in Albany, which split off from the mother church early in 1857 due to the refusal of that body to join the NY Ministerium. 11

According to Keutgen’s letter, the Albany church was offering Pastor Hennicke a yearly salary of $600, and that the pastor “would rather stay in Staten Island, provided that he could have as much income in order to continue the small children’s school in Port Richmond.”12 Pastor Hennicke received $160 from this school and $160 from the Port Richmond church, which amount would probably not increase “since most of the people there are rather poor.” So it was up to the Stapleton congregation to come up with the additional $280. This would seem to be a rather heavy burden to lay upon a mission congregation that did not even have their own worship space, but they rose to the challenge. The letter is filled with the names of members, along with their pledges:

 

Carl Keutgen $50

Andrew Wohlrabe $25

E.F. Kortum $25

Henry Uhrbrock $10

H. Robt. Molhs $10

J. Dejonge $25

J. Mangelsdorf $ 5

Louis Dejonge $25

Mrs. Margaret Meyers $ 4

John Johnson $ 5

Fr. Karrenberg $10

Johann Lenting $10

Helena Mann $ 4

John Degen $20

Gottfried Winter $12

Wm. J. Hetherington $ 4

Mrs. Hagen $ 5

Mr. Meyer $ 5

Peter Butz $ 5

Baker Can???? $ 3

Geo. Widmayer $20

John Lamb $25

HC Wolf (???) $20

 

The total pledged by Stapleton: $327. The Albany church found another pastor in May of 185713 and Pastor Hennicke remained in Staten Island – presumably with a raise. And all this before he was even ordained!

There is no parish record extant from 1857; however, according to synodical records, the two congregations had a total of 68 members “entitled to communion.” Pastor Hennicke performed 43 baptisms, 4 confirmations, and 1 burial. 14 

Barely a month after his ordination, though, Pastor Hennicke was again angling to leave for Albany. The pastor of the Albany congregation had returned to Europe, and they wanted Pastor Hennicke to take his place. Keutgen again addressed the Stapleton congregation:

And so Pastor Hennicke left Port Richmond and Stapleton to serve St. John’s – and, as it turned out, the First German Lutheran Church as well – in Albany. Ironically, though, his salary was only $500 -- $147 less than he would have received had he remained in Staten Island.  

A brief look at Pastor Hennicke’s subsequent career might serve to enlighten his relationship with the German church in Stapleton. According to a history of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan, Pastor Hennicke was “sent” by the President of the Synod, the Rev. H.N. Pohlman, to “restore harmony” at Albany. Although Rev. Pohlman did preside at Pastor Hennicke’s installations at both St. John’s and 1st German in Albany on Nov. 15, 1857, there is no indication in the NY Ministerium records that he was sent there by Dr. Pohlman. In any case, Hennicke almost immediately began to ruffle feathers at St. John’s by introducing innovations such as burning candles during celebration of the Eucharist, making the sign of the cross at the pronouncing of the benediction, and chanting Latin hymns. 15 The congregation sent a protest to the synod, and expressed a desire to leave the Synod entirely.  

President Pohlman devoted a significant portion of his report for 1860 to the situation: 

It may be remembered that at our last session several resolutions were passed in relation to innovations introduced into this congregation by its pastor, the Rev. C. Hennicke, and that to avoid misunderstandings, a committee was appointed to confer with him and with his people. On the 23rd of September I received a respectful letter from the Rev. Mr. Hennicke, though evidently written under a misapprehension of the nature and design of these resolutions, demanding an honorable dismission from this Ministerium. In my reply I gave him my reasons why his application could not be granted, advised him of the appointment of the committee, and requested a personal interview. This letter met with no response. But on the 28th of January, I received a communication signed by himself and five others, communicating the following resolution: ‘Resolved, That this congregation divide and separate from the synodical connection of the New York Ministerium.’ This was followed on the 6th of February by a petition signed on the ground, ‘that the Synod had acted contrary to the Word of God, the confession of faith of our Lutheran Church, our church rules, and its own constitution in word, writing and action;’ and further declaring ‘that should they not receive a written ismissal in the space of four weeks, they would consider their connection dissolved and act accordingly.’ To these communications I returned a suitable reply, and received in answer a most insulting letter to which self-respect forbade any other reply than this: ‘that failing to act as a gentleman, much less as a Christian Minister, I could hold no further correspondence with him. 

But the matter was not to end here. As I had anticipated from the tone of his last communication, Mr. Hennicke could not so effectually blind the eyes of his congregation, as to lead them whither he would. Accordingly I was not surprised, shortly after Easter, at receiving an intimation that a deputation from his church officers were exceedingly anxious to have an interview with me. At this interview they expressed sorrow and penitence for their conduct; but declared they had been decived by their pastor, who had resigned because they would no longer uphold him in his arbitrary proceedings; that they had unanimously rescinded the resolution of the board asking for a dismission, and now desired to be restored to the parent fold and to be supplied with a minister from the New York Ministerium. Under these circumstances I did not hesitate to comply with their request, and the result is found as above stated, in the unanimous call and settlement of the Rev. Mr. Fischer as their spiritual guide and instructor.”16 

The Synod, when apprised of these actions of Pastor Hennicke, resolved

That the Rev. C. Hennicke in the communications addressed by him during the past synodical year to the President of the Ministerium, lost sight of the respect and comity due from a gentleman and Christian to every other, and from members of an ecclesiastical body to that body, and its presiding officeer, and that we can not again recognize him as a member of our Ministerium until he shall have offered to the President, and through him to the Ministerium such acknowledgments and apologies, as are clearly called for by the gratuitous reproach and abuse which he has cast upon us all.17 

But his story does not end here. The very next year, he received a call to become assistant pastor at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan. President Pohlman reported 

On the 5th of November, I received a letter from the Rev. C. Hennicke, expressing sorrow and penitence for his past conduct, and earnestly entreating to be restored to the confidence and fellowship of the Ministerium. After signing a declaration herewith transmitted, abjuring his former errors and renewing his fealty to this body, he was restored . . .18 

Five years later, though, Pastor Hennicke joined his brother Henry and F.W.T. Steimle, in breaking away from the NY Ministerium to form the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of New York and Adjacent States (known as the “Steimle Synod.”) This action angered President Pohlman and other members of the Ministerium, which resolved that their actions were

. . subversive of all proper Church authority and discipline, a gross violation of the sacred obligations and duties to the Ministerium and the Churhc, without excuse or justification, based on false pretenses and false accusations against the doctrinal or confessional position of this Body, and that they are therefore guilty of the grievous sin of schism . . .19  

Despite these controversies, Pastor Hennicke went on to become the first pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan, and also found St. Peter’s in Greenport, L.I. and St. John’s in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

However, it is reasonable to assume that the young Pastor Hennicke was headstrong and ambitious; one gets the impression that the welfare of his small congregations in Staten Island was not his highest priority. His departure may have been one reason why Port Richmond withdrew from the NY Ministerium in 1859.20 They would join the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1865.21

The congregation at Stapleton, though, was determined to find a new pastor. For all of 1858, they had no pastor, and no services were held. But a renewed effort to revitalize the congregation began in early 1859. Efforts were made to generate interest among the German community of Stapleton, including a concert by the “Teutonia Mannerchor” from Manhattan. Plans were laid start a school for elementary through high-school age children. There was talk of the two congregations pooling their resources to help pay for a pastor who would serve Port Richmond and Stapleton, but Port Richmond was unwilling to go along with this idea. On January 30, 1859, at the suggestion of Mr. August Haupt in agreement with Mr. F. Lenting, Pastor Goehling of the Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Port Richmond was invited to hold divine service in the Reformed Church of Stapleton. This was so well attended by the Germans of the neighborhood that on February 22, 1859 a reorganization of the congregation took place. The former officers resigned their positions and these men were elected:

Elders: Mr. August Haupt, Mr. Julius Dejonge and Mr. G. Widmahr

Council Members: Mr. L. DeJonge, Mr. H. Uhrbrock, Mr. K. Schaefer, Mr. Ph. Lehn and Mr. J. A. Wolf

Trustees: Mr. F. Lenting, Mr. V. W. Caesar, Mr. C. F. Francke, Mr. C. C. Bordorf and C. F. G. Sudendorf

Secretary: Mr. L. Dejonge

Deputy-Secretary: Mr. G. Uhrbrock

Treasurer: Mr. F. Lenting.  

Pastor Goehling was called as minister of the congregation. On Sunday, March 6, 1859, those elected were solemnly installed in their offices before the altar, and the Rev. Goehling was installed as pastor by the Rev. C.A. Ebert of Newark, NJ.22

A school was also formed, and Pastor Goehling was apparently one of the teachers, as indicated by this receipt for his salary as a teacher in the school.  Like all schools, though, they ran into financial problems, as evidenced by this notice from 1859:

German-American School at Stapleton, S.I.

This school having been organised in connection with the German Evangelical Lutheran Church at Stapelton S.I., is already in successful operation since the 16th of May last, and over 40 pupils are already enjoying the fruites of a moral and useful school education. It becomes the duty of the undersigned Committee to recommend this well-timed and much needed undertaking on Staten Island to all parents and those friendly to the necessity of improving the Morality and Knowledge of youth, at an expense within reach of every family.

The receipts are however yet much less than the expenses, which have been necessarily incurred for fitting up schoolrooms, procuing books, and securing compete teachers, etc.

The Committee therefore kindly asks a small contributin towards creating a school fund, from all those friendly to the good cause, and wo are desirous of seeing said institution permanently located amongst us.

Stapleton, S.I. June 15th, 1859

Committee:

Charles F. Francke

Ph. Lehn

Louis Dejonge

 

Interestingly, this notice was written in both English and German – the Committee was perhaps already thinking of expanding the school beyond the bounds of the German community.

 

A Church of Their Own

 

The revitalized congregation continued to worship in rented space for a few years. Then, at the annual general meeting on February 5, 1865, in the house of Mr. Louis Dejonge, Mr. Karl Francke announced that four contiguous lots on the northeast corner of Beach and Richmond Streets had been purchased by the Trustees from Mr. Albert Ward for $1,000. This land, which originally was part of the Ellis Duxbury plantation and had been owned subsequently by St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and Daniel Tompkins, was purchased under the condition that the sites be used exclusively for the erecting of a German Evangelical Lutheran Church, plus any necessary outbuildings.

 

Some time later – just when is still uncertain – the congregation purchased the building of the aforementioned Unitarian Church on Richmond Turnpike, dismantled it and reconstructed it on the corner of Beach St. and Cebra Avenue. This building would server the congregation until 1913, when the present Gothic structure was begun. 

 

Schism: 1869-1873

 

Things seemed to be going well for the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Stapleton. But a controversy arose in 1869. Pastor Goehling supposedly resigned at a meeting of the congregation on July 18, but agreed to stay on as pastor until a replacement was found. A notice of this appeared in Der deutsche Staten-Islander” on August 14, 1869 [translation by the author]:23

 

German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Stapleton, Staten Island

Due to the resignation of Pastor C. Göhling from the position as preacher of the congregation, it has become necessary for the church council to take steps and to ask all the church members and the German residents of Staten Island to take part in the selection of the next preacher.

According to the church constitution, paragraph 11, every church member has the right to put forward a candidate in writing; and per paragraph 14, the election will be decided by a majority vote of the congregation.

To guarantee the preaching receipts and other expenses, it is necessary to request that the members of the congregation, and those that wish to join, agree to the renting of pews and subscription of contributions for the fiscal year beginning on Feb. 1, 1870.

In the name of the church council,

E. Hagedorn, Secretary

Notice in Der Deutsche Staten-Islander, Aug. 14, 1869

Nothing appeared out of the ordinary; but the following week, these notices appeared:

Letter to the Editor

In regards to the congregational meeting which took place on July 18, where the resignation of Pastor Goehling was discussed, we must decidedly put in a protest against the resolution arrived at, in accordance with the church constitution, since over two-thirds of the church members were not invited to this meeting, and therefore were not present.

In the name of many members.

German Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Stapleton, Staten Island

 

As part of the forthcoming preacher selection, Pastor Beer of East Brooklyn, on Sunday the 29th of August, and Pastor Ehrhardt of New York on the following Sunday, September 5th, will preach trial sermons in the church of the congregation, on the corner of Beach and Richmond Street.

All church members will be requested to attend, and at the same time all German residents of the Island are cordially invited to visit.

By order of the church council,

E. Hagedorn, Secretary

 

The battle apparently was joined, and there appear to have been two definite factions splitting the congregation. On August 28, 1869, these were printed in the same column, contiguous to each other.

 

German Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Stapleton, Staten Island

As part of the forthcoming preacher selection, Pastor Beer of East Brooklyn, on Sunday the 29th of August, and Pastor Ehrhardt of New York on the following Sunday, September 5th, will preach trial sermons in the church of the congregation, on the corner of Beach and Richmond Street.

All church members will be requested to attend, and at the same time all German residents of the Island are cordially invited to visit.

By order of the church council,

E. Hagedorn, Secretary

 

German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation

of Stapleton, Staten Island

German Evangelical Lutheran Church

 

Issue No. 44 of the “Deutscher Staten Islander”, under “Letter to the Editor”, contained an anonymous protest against the resolution of the congregational meeting of July 18 of this year. To which the church council replies, that the extraordinary meeting was in accordance with the church constitution, and was announced on the previous Sunday, as well as on the day of the meeting, from the pulpit; then outside of church, it was personally brought to the attention of as many members as possible. If a few members remained uninformed, the blame in every case lay only with themselves and their lack of a lively interest in the proceedings of the congregation.

Their protest is therefore without any foundation.

In the name of the church council,

E. Hagedorn, Secretary

 

-- from “Der deutsche Staten-Islander”, September 25, 1869

German Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Stapleton, Staten Island

Preacher Election

The undersigned hereby give notice, that Sunday the 26th of September,

after the conclusion of the church service the Preacher Election will be held in the church building, and that 

Pastor Rechenberg of Toronto,

Pastor Simon of Hartford,

Pastor Beer of Brooklyn 

are the candidates.

 

According to paragraph 35 of the church constitution, only such members who have paid their contribution from February 1 1869 until 1870, or those who have pledged themselves to pay, are eligible to vote 

By order of the church council,

E. Hagedorn, Secretary

“Der deutsche Staten-Islander”, October 2, 1869

 

German Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Stapleton, Staten Island

According to the church council of the congregation, since it was by Pastor Göhling’s request that he be immediately relieved of his duties, there will be no Divine Service on

Sunday the 3rd of October

however, on the same day at 7 o’clock in the evening the installation of the newly-elected preacher

Pastor R. Beer

will be performed by Pastor A.C. Wedekind of St. Jame’s Church of New York, and Pastor Beer will thereby start his ministry to the congregation.

The members of the congregation, as well as the German residents of the Island, are hearby cordially invived to attend.

By order of the church council,

E. Hagedorn, Secretary

 

Pastor Goehling’s last pastoral act was the baptism of Anna Maria Hesse on October 10, 1869. Pastor Beer’s first pastoral act was the baptism of Christina Beinert the following Sunday.24 Interestingly, Pastor Beer came to Stapleton from St. Peter’s German Lutheran Church in Brooklyn. His replacement: Carl Goehling!

But this pastoral change was just the beginning of the troubles for the Stapleton congregation. These were, at least in part, a reflection of the controversies and schisms that had been going on in the Lutheran church on the national and regional levels for the past decade or so. The General Synod (a national association of regional synods, much like the ELCA today) saw Southern Lutherans secede in 1861 over issues of slavery and rebellion. In addition, the massive German migrations of the 50’s and 60’s brought along with it pastors and theologians who were more confessionally conservative than the more liberal, Americanized Lutheran leaders. This caused more stress, and the NY Ministerium finally split apart in 1865, with the mainly English-speaking pastors and congregations forming the New York Synod, leaving control of the Ministerium to the new German faction. The Ministerium was further fractured a year later when a small group of ultra-orthodox pastors led by F.W.T. Steimle (among them J.F.C. Hennicke!) formed Die Deutsche Evangelische Lutherische Synode vom Staate N.Y. and anderen Staaten or, more simply, the “Steimle Synod.”25

All three of these synods would become involved in one way over the next few years with the German congregation in Stapleton. Pastor Goehling was a member of the New York Ministerium; Pastor Beer of the Synod of New York. And now the Steimle Synod would get involved . . .

On October 17, 1870, The Vice President of the Steimle Synod (Ch. Hennicke, J.F.C. Hennicke’s brother) received a letter from the

. . .German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation at Stapleton (St. I.), which communicates that the pastorate there is vacant, and that they wish to have a capable preacher recommended. Pastor Vosseler calls attention to Pastor Rieb, of Newark. Since no direct communication has come to the Conference in this matter, the Vice President will take care of whatever is necessary, privately, for the present.26

After barely a year at Stapleton, Pastor Beer accepted a call to church in Baltimore, Maryland. He moved, and was eventually granted an honorable dismissmal from the Synod of New York in January, 1871.27

Although members of the Stapleton church visited Pastor Rieb, nothing came of it. Then, in November, the Rev. Friedrich Wilhelm Albert Kühne of Waldeck, Germany, informed the Steimle Synod that he was looking for a congregation. The Synod gave him a copy of their constitution and promised to help him.28 In December, Pastor Kühne accepted an invitation from the German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation at Stapleton to preach a guest sermon on Christmas Day.29 He made a very favorable impression; according to Der Deutsche Staten-Islander, “his inspired words brought forth fruit, like streams of living waters, in the parched congregation, and awakened their slumbering souls to new life.”30

The Steimle Synod minutes of March 6, 1871, contain this entry:

Mr. Keutgen of the Evangelical Lutheran Congregation at Stapleton, S.I., informed the conference in detail of conditions in the congregation there. The Conference advises that Pastor Kühne, as the regularly elected pastor there, be installed and begin his work as soon as possible.31

It would seem that Pastor Kühne was the new pastor of the German church in Stapleton. But there were complications. The Synod minutes from March 20, 1871, contain this interesting entry:

The Secretary reports on the result of the remonstrances made by him in behalf of the Conference with Pastor Wedekind, that the latter is not inclined to give up his agitation in Stapleton. Pastor Kühne gives gratifying information concerning the result of his activity in Stapleton, and the Conference believes that it would be best for the present to wait and see how the matter turns out.

Pastor A.C. Wedekind was president of the Synod of New York, and perhaps did not want to let the Stapleton congregation slip out of their sphere of influence. There are interesting clues in the parish register books, too. Pastor Kühne baptized two children, George Wilhelm Hagedorn on Jan. 10, 1871 and Wilhelmine Müller on Feb. 5, 1871. But someone else – it is unclear who, since the handwriting in the parish register does not match that of either Pastor Kühne or his successor, Pastor Hering – baptized Nicholas Zorn on March 19th and Margaretta Tobias on April 2nd. This might have been done by Pastor Wedekind, who is listed as a pastor of the congregation in a short history published for the 75th Anniversary of the church. However, Rev. Wedekind was never officially called as a pastor. Pastor Kühne faced “many difficulties and hard conflicts with an opposition party, which lobbied for an opposing preacher.”32

It is at this point that the congregation split. Pastor Kühne and his followers formed St. Johns’ Lutheran Church, and met in the old Episcopal Church on Broad Street. Their first service was on March 12th, 1871.33 Presumably they maintained their affiliation with the Steimle Synod. The remaining faction retained control of the church building, and called the Rev. E. Hering, a member of the Synod of New York, as pastor, probably sometime in July, 1871. His first pastoral act was the baptism of Matthias Otto on July 31.

St. John’s flourished over the next two years, but the “mother” congregation was in distress, as evidenced by the small confirmation classes of 1870 (13) and 1871 (7). But reconciliation was soon to come, both at the synodical and local level.

In October, 1872, the members of the Steimle Synod (Pastor Kühne among them) applied for and were granted re-admission into the NY Ministerium. In May of 1873, St. John’s merged with the German Ev. Luth. Church of Stapleton, and Rev. Kühne was called as the pastor of the reconstituted congregation. Then began a period of relative calm and harmony. Pastor Kühne served the church until 1893, when the Rev. Alfred Paul Bernhardt Krause was called.

 

Reconciliation and Growth: 1873 – 1907


Not much is known about the years 1873 through 1895. Based on the sizes of the confirmation classes, and the number of baptisms per year, the congregation remained fairly stable in size.

[Chart of Conf. Class Sizes, Baptism numbers]

Apart from the church register, the major source of information about the congregation during these years is a history written by Pastor Krause, which was included in the fifth “Jahresbuch” of the congregation, published in 1907. Most of the following information is from this document. 

Pastor Kühne retired in 1893, and Pastor Albert Bernhard Krause was installed as pastor of the Stapleton congregation on Oct. 1 of the same year. During the period from 1893-1905, Pastor Krause and the Board of Trustees started new initiatives in order to revitalize the congregation and attract new members. In 1894, Religious Instruction was added to the school curriculum, with Pastor Krause teaching the classes. In the same year, the “envelope system” was introduced so that anyone could become a member of the church with a small weekly contribution beginning at 5 cents. The congregation also started to advertise the German newspapers of Staten Island.

The Sunday School was given more attention and more space was found for it; the FrauenVerein and JugendVerein were also started. The Pastor also began to teach an evening school. The women of the church made it their special concern to beautify the church by adorning it with stained glass.

A yearly report (Jahresbuch) was begun in 1903, so that all members – and the German community in Staten Island -- could be informed about the work and growth of the church. All of these combined efforts obviously bore fruit, as membership grew from 260 in 1903 to 350 in 1906.

Fundraising efforts during these years included an 1898 drive to reduce the $5,000 mortgage on the church properties; one member distributed circulars to the congregation on Easter Sunday, 1898 and collected $502; a church concert led by a Mr. Schaefer on May 7, 1898 brought in $200.45.

A fair held in October 1901 to defray the cost of the repairs to the church and schoolhouse raised $1,826.99 – not a bad sum for 1901! The fair was run by the women of the church, and the men must have been quite impressed by the amount of money garnered by their efforts. The Trustees (all men, of course) decided at their meeting of April 18, 1902, that they would like to assist the ladies in their planning for the next fair. The fair committee was: Mr. Lindemann, Mr. Meurer, Mr. Schaus, Mr. Siemer and Mr. Bardes.

However, the congregation faced some new problems. The “American Church” on Brownell St. in Stapleton instituted German services and a free German school in 1898, which drew away a significant number of members. Despite the previously mentioned fundraising efforts, a “burdensome” mortgage of $4,500 remained on the church property. However, this was finally paid off in 1903. In the summer of 1902 there were improvements to the church buildings, including the erection of a stone wall on St. Paul’s Avenue; painting of all three buildings on the outside (and the church and schoolhouse on the inside as well); laying a broad sidewalk in front of the schoolhouse; new fences around the entire premises; repairs to the church roof and steeple, etc. at a cost of about $2,000.

At the congregational meeting on March 9, 1902, the church’s treasury had a surplus of $1,745.20 for the fiscal year 1901-2. Pastor Krause’s history goes on to report that

. . . the invitation to participate in the Easter festivities was very successful, and it was decided to issue another invitation that year. It was further resolved that the by-laws of the church be reviewed point by point, which task would be undertaken in a later meeting.

We believe that this report has stressed the important points of the history of the congregation during the years 1893-1902, and we refer the kind reader to the already published pamphlets for the years 1903-1906 for information about the following years.

Unfortunately, the yearbooks for 1904 through 1906 have been lost, along with Pastor Krause’s history of the congregation from the beginning of Pastor Kühne’s pastorate in 1873 until his retirement in 1893.

 

 

1 Nelson, E. Clifford, ed., The Lutherans in North America, p.37.

2 Adams, Rippley and Reichmann, The German Americans: An Ethnic Experience, chapter 1 (online at http://www.ulib.iupui.edu/kade/adams).

3 Nelson, pp. 152, 153

4 Scholz, Robert F., Press Toward the Mark, p. 90

5 Adams, Ripplye, and Reichmann, chapter 4.

6 Morris, Ira, Morris’ Memorial History of Staten Island, Vol. II,

7 ibid.

8 Letter, Charles Keutgen, Secretary pro tem., to the NY Ministerium, Sept. 4, 1857; Archives of the Metro NY Synod ELCA, Wagner College, Staten Island, NY.

9 Minutes, 62nd Synod of the Evan. Luth. Ministerium of the State of New York, etc., p. 6, 28. Archives of the Metro NY Synod ELCA, Wagner College, Staten Island, NY.

10 Minutes, 63rd Synod of the Evan. Luth. Ministerium of the State of New York, etc., p. 6, 28. Archives of the Metro NY Synod ELCA, Wagner College, Staten Island, NY

11 ibid., p. 37.

12 Letter, Charles Keutgen to G.E.L.C. of Stapleton, Feb. 10, 1857; translation by the author. Archives of the Metro NY Synod ELCA, Wagner College, Staten Island, NY.

13 “One Hundred Years in St. John’s Lutheran Church, Albany, NY”, church history published 1957 by St. John’s. Archives of the Metro NY Synod ELCA, Wagner College, Staten Island, NY.

14 Minutes, 62nd Synod of the Evan. Luth. Ministerium of the State of New York, etc., p. 6, 28. Archives of the Metro NY Synod ELCA, Wagner College, Staten Island, NY.

15 Minutes, 64th Synod of the Evan. Luth. Ministerium of the State of New York, etc., p. 28. Archives of the Metro NY Synod ELCA, Wagner College, Staten Island, NY

16 ibid., pp. 52, 53

17 ibid., p. 27

18 Minutes, 66th Synod of the Evan. Luth. Ministerium of the State of New York, etc., pp. 59, 60. Archives of the Metro NY Synod ELCA, Wagner College, Staten Island, N

19 Minutes, 71st Synod of the Evan. Luth. Ministerium of the State of New York, etc., p. 51. Archives of the Metro NY Synod ELCA, Wagner College, Staten Island, NY.

20 Minutes, 64th Synod of the Evan. Luth. Ministerium of the State of New York, etc., p. 30. Archives of the Metro NY Synod ELCA, Wagner College, Staten Island, NY.

21 Diamond Jubilee History 1906-1981: Atlantic District – Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

22 Minutes, 64th Synod of the Evan. Luth. Ministerium of the State of New York, etc., p. 41.

23 These newspapers were found, along with many other old documents, in a cardboard box in a closet at Trinity Lutheran Church. These precious documents have been moved to the Archives of the Metro NY Synod of the ELCA at Horrman Library, Wagner College.

24 Pastor Beer came to Stapleton from the XXX congregation in Brooklyn; ironically, he was replaced by Pastor Goehling, who was called to the same parish in 18xx.

25 Scholz, p. 98

26 Minutes of the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of the State of New York, etc., 1869-1872; translated by Edmund A. Steimle, Philadelphia, 1935, p. 65

27 Minutes of the Fifth Annual Session of the Ev. Luth. Synod of New York, 1871, p. 6

28 Steimle, p.67

29 Steimle, p.71

30 Der Deutscher Staten-Islander, Jan. 6, 1972. [tr. by author]

31 Steimle, p.79

32 Der Lutherische Herold, Aug. 11, 1900.

33 Der Deutsche Staten-Islander, Jan. 6, 1872.


 

In 1907, the congregation called the Rev. Frederic Sutter as their pastor. He was born in Stambach, Germany on February 26, 1875 and moved to the United States while still a child. He graduated from Wagner Memorial College (then located in Rochester, NY) in 1894, and from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1897. Ordained by the New York Ministerium in 1897, he served pastorates in Liberty and Hudson, New York before being called to Staten Island.

 

Pastor Sutter almost immediately began to make changes that would, in time, enable this German congregation to transcend its German roots and enter the 21st Century as a vital, multi-cultural institution. Slowly at first, he began to institute English languages services one Sunday evening per month. English language Sunday School and Confirmation classes inevitably followed. The congregation was able to retain the second and third generations who now spoke English, and also reach out to other, non-German members of the Stapleton community.

 

The congregation continued to grow, and it eventually became clear that a new church building was needed. On May 27, 1913, demolition of the old church began. Pastor Carl Sutter, years later, described that day:

I don't know how many of you remember the old church that stood here from 1866 to 1913 ... It probably seated about 250 people. Instead of a cross on the steeple of the church, it had a rooster. It was known as "the rooster church" ... and I always wanted that rooster. I thought he was tremendous. On the morning that they tore down the steeple, I was on the corner of Beach Street and Van Duzer Street. As the steeple was coming down, I ran up the hill - at that time I had reached the age of six - and they gave me the rooster. But it was much smaller than I anticipated. There were several bullet holes in it that the delinquents of that period used for a target.

Construction on the new building started on June 12, and Pastor Sutter laid the cornerstone for the present Gothic structure on October 26th. On Sunday, July 12, 1914, the new building was consecrated for use. The formal dedication took place later in the year. In Pastor Frederick Sutter's words:

The dedication of our new, magnificent church was celebrated in truly splendid fashion. On Sunday, Sept. 20, at 10:30 in the morning, the dedication service began, at which Pastor Dr. G.C.F Haas, the President of the New York Ministerium, gave the sermon. The solemn act of dedication was performed by the writer of this report. The Sunday School celebration followed at 3 o'clock in the afternoon with a speech in German by Pastor G. Doering of New Springville, S.L, and a speech in English by the pastor of this congregation. At 7 :45 in the evening, a service in English was held, at which the Rev. Dr. G.C. Berkemeier the Wartburg Orphanage in Mount Vernon, N.Y., gave the sermon. A celebration with the Women's and Youth Groups followed on Monday evening, with a Cerman speech by Pastor F.A. Bavendam of Jersey City, and English by Pastor C. Weber, a son of the church, of Yonkers, N.Y. The service for men took place on Tuesday evening, with a speech by Pastor D. Kranch of Albany, N Y. The final celebration was on Wednesday evening with a general assembly of the church members in the parish house. The impressive celebrations, the beautiful speeches, the wonderful hymns, and the large audience will remain unforgettable to us; God grant that it will be a lasting blessing for us all.

Photographs of the brand new church are surprising to us today, because the interior is flooded with sunlight. The stained-glass windows were not yet in place. Pastor Carl tells the story of these windows:

The windows of the church were made in Munich, Germany by the famous Mayer firm. The two windows that were originally ordered were this one here [the Resurrection window], in memory of Louis DeJonge - he died when the church was being constructed - and the one in the baptismal font was given by the Sunday School. These two windows were ordered in 1914. They were lost because of the war. In 1918 they were found in Rotterdam, and they were then sent here and put in. The other windows were gradually put over the years. The last window was the Luther window, put in in 1937.

Once the new church building was in place, Pastor Sutter turned his attention to an even grander project: bringing Wagner Memorial College to Staten Island from Rochester, NY. Pastor Sutter's relationship with Wagner College went back many years. Wagner was founded in 1883 in Rochester, New York, as a "Proseminary," with the purpose of educating young men to serve German-speaking Lutheran churches. Pastor Sutter was instrumental in convincing the Trustees of Wagner to move the college to Staten Island, and in convincing the New York Ministerium (now the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) to purchase the Cunard Estate on top of Grymes Hill. The site has a commanding view of New York Harbor - a fact which led to one of the more interesting stories surrounding Pastor Sutter.

One day in 1917, he was on top of the hill taking photographs of the site to show to the Trustees. Neighbors, however, interpreted his actions as the German pastor taking photos of New York Harbor - with the intention, no doubt, of sending them to der Kaiser! The police were duly informed. According to an article in the New York Times, headlined "Pastor Denies Teuton Bias," Pastor Sutter and the Church Council President, Edward Meurer, were questioned by the police, then released when no evidence of traitorous activity was found.

 

The New York Ministerium purchased the Cunard property, and Wagner College moved to Staten Island in 1918. The early years were difficult, and not a few congregation council meetings would end with Pastor Sutter soliciting funds from the elders and deacons to help Wagner survive. The Ladies' Guild supplem-ented these funds with home-cooked delicacies for the students and teachers, as well.

 

Pastor Sutter served on the board his entire life, and guided the affairs and growth of the college in both good and difficult times. It became a co-educational institution in 1933, and enrollment increased from 300 in 1935 to over 1500 by the 1950's. Today, Wagner is one of the finest educational institutions in the country, with over 1,900 under-graduates and 300 graduate students from 39 different states and 13 countries. Wagner is ranked by US News and World Report in the "Top Tier" of Northern Universities, continuing its tradition of academic excellence.

 

Pastor Sutter's son Carl was ordained in 1933 and called as the assistant pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church (the name was changed in 1927) in 1936. His ministry initially focused on the young people of the congregation, and over the years he worked to build up the Sunday School, Luther League, and the "Mr. and Mrs. Club" which, judging from the minutes, was a precursor to the current popular "Beer Club." He also began to form relationships with local African-American churches - relationships that laid the foundation for the future diversification of the Trinity congregation.

 

Pastor Carl's crowning achievement, though, was the foundation of Trinity Lutheran School. Ever since the church was founded in 1856, the education of young people had been a priority. Pastor Carl envisioned a Christ-centered elementary school that would nurture the child's whole being - body, mind and soul. The school opened on September 12, 1960. Classes were held in the church fellowship hall, and the old bowling alley was completely renovated to serve as the Pre- K classrooms. A four-year building program resulted in the opening of the Frederic Sutter Educational Center, which serves to this day as the home of Trinity Lutheran School. It continues to minister to the children of the congregation and community by providing an excellent academic program from Pre- K 3 through eighth grade.  (Unfortunately, we do not Trinity Lutheran School are lost.  1960 - 2011.) 

 

When Pastor Carl's retirement in 1979 was imminent, the Congregation Council began to interview candidates for the new pastor. They were looking for someone with the ability to provide continuity with the past, while at the same time guiding Trinity through the transition to a world where a Sutter' would no longer shepherd the congregation. A difficult task, to be sure, but they found the right person in the
Rev. Thomas F. Mugavero. "Pastor Tom" took over the reins of Trinity in 1979, and served the congregation until the year 2000. During those years, the major mission efforts were the school, the soup kitchen, and the music program, which saw the creation of a Concert Choir. The congregation also grew in diversity, adding newer Staten Islanders to the "Old Staten Island" base. Under Pastor Tom's leadership, Trinity avoided the fate of many urban congregations, which saw their members age and numbers dwindle as they refused to embrace the changes happening in their communities.

 

Trinity Lutheran Church is led today by the Rev. Richard F. Michael, who was called as Pastor in 2001. Under his dynamic leadership, Trinity enters the 21st century with undiminished spirit and energy, carrying out its mission as a place "Where God's Grace is Shared."